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From Which 3 Centre Backs from 5 to Praying we have 3 Fit for Wembley – #AFC3EFC1

 

So, that’s it then. Over and done with the Premier League until August. I’d like to say I won’t miss it, but I will. We have hit form in the last ten games, which made the end of the season quite enjoyable. I wouldn’t mind if the season ended in February/March, however now I do mind.

Unfortunately our valiant effort proved too little too late. Despite Arsenal winning 8 games out of the last 10, the Gunners finished behind Liverpool by a solitary point after Klopp’s men thrashed Boro 3-0. City’s away win over Watford was even more impressive – 5-0, allowing them to finish third.

So it didn’t really matter we won against Everton. But it was still a largely enjoyable game, one well worth covering. I’ll get to it then.

Koscielny’s red card

As it happened so early in the game, it’s the best place to start. It definitely change the dynamics of the encounter. We were very much on top, off to strong start capped with an early goal until Kos was sent off. Everton grew back into the game after we went down to ten men.

The foul itself didn’t look bad initially, however the slow motion replays from the right angle showed the full extent of it. Laurent’s lunge was indeed very reckless. He jumped into the challenge feet first, completely missed the ball and took out Valencia. It was ugly, it was clumsy, and it was a deserved red.

I do not know why Koscielny did what he did. He is far from a reckless player, let alone malicious in intent. This tackle was completely at odds and out of character with the Frenchman’s modus operandi.

Rarely reckless

As a consequence our best centre-back will miss the final of the FA Cup. It is disappointing in the extreme, Koscielny himself looked crestfallen. Our defence needs him at all times, such is his quality. Our chances of winning the cup took a severe hit yesterday, in my opinion.

Even more alarming is the fact Gabriel, who has been most excellent on the day, was stretchered off. After an unsuccessful tackle on Valencia, the Brazilian stretched his knee pretty badly, and wasn’t even able to walk off the pitch.

An injury and a red card handed Per Mertesacker his first league game this season, but only because Shkodran Mustafi was absent altogether. The younger German missed out due to illness and now our hopes are pinned on his well-being. The only back three we would be able to cobble together in his absence would consist of Holding, Mertesacker and Monreal. Not hugely convincing. Fingers crossed Mustafi is available, because Kos and Gabriel won’t be.

All eyes on Mustafi

Cech earns his corn again

Like the team in general. Petr Cech has been very impressive lately. He made vital saves in all our recent wins, while also keeping the score down in the North London Derby. Yesterday he was once again integral to our success.

His busiest period happened from roughly 35th to 40th minute, during which time he was forced into three saves: distance shot from Gana/Gueye or whoever he is, glancing header from Lukaku and the Belgian’s poke from close range. Cech’s quality allowed us to go into the break with a two-goal cushion, which proved decisive.

But he was also alert generally, sprinting out of his goal to clear a couple of times, working well on low crosses and even guessing the direction of the penalty. Unfortunately Lukaku’s hit was just too well-placed and powerful for our keeper.

Cech put in another good performance

Welbeck was very wasteful … so too was Iwobi

I like Danny Welbeck a lot, and the decision to start him over Olivier Giroud was probably the right one. I’m sure we would have seen the Frenchman had it not been for the red card and Gabriel’s injury though.

At the end of the day Welbeck fits into this system more neatly perhaps, however his poor finishing yesterday stood out. The Englishman inexplicably kicked out at fresh air before Bellerin powered it home, he failed to get on the end of two good crosses, while also spurning a one-on-one chance. He got an assist though, one Giroud wouldn’t be able to good, so at least something to show for an otherwise poor performance.

Iwobi, meanwhile, came on for Alexis around the classic 70-minute mark. The Nigerian was a livewire, adding some quality passing and close-quarters control to our midfield, but he too spurned some glorious chances to score. His first was following Hector’s cross: instead of letting fly immediately after chesting the ball down Iwobi took another touch, allowing the defender to block the shot. His second came from a one-on-one Alex created for himself with fine dribbling, and then followed an amazing run with a scuffed finish. Dire.

Oh Alex…

But despite all that we won

Up to this point my review has been mostly negative, however I’m in fact deeply impressed with our performance. Everton aren’t the easiest side to beat, and we outmuscled the Toffees playing with ten men for 75 minutes + added time.

The stats paint a picture of an almost even fight, which Arsenal edged. In practice we were much the better side, working Robles hard on a handful of occasions before he finally succumbed to an impeccable Ramsey curler in added time. Everton threatened too, but Cech was certainly less busy and faced fewer shots on target.

We have put in a quality performance, dominating the proceedings for the better part of the first half, before dropping deeper in the second and springing a number of counter-attacks, which, had we been less wasteful would have put the game to bed much earlier than in added time.

Amazing strike from Ramsey sealed it

The last word

I’m very saddened by the fact we missed out on the Champions League. I do realise we only have ourselves to blame, something I talked about extensively recently, but here are just a couple of quick facts regarding our final points tally (75):

  1. Last season we amassed 4 fewer (71), but finished second
  2. It is the first time a Premier League side with 75 points didn’t qualify for the Champions League
  3. It is the highest points total for a team finishing fifth in the league (previous record was 72)
  4. It is our joint-second tally in the last nine seasons
  5. Finally, it is the first time we haven’t qualified for the Champions League under Arsene Wenger

I realise all of this matters very little. The league was highly competitive, we should have adapted instead of dropping points to Boro, West Brom, Watford etc. It’s on us, however the final push has been nothing short of astounding, and yet it wasn’t enough. So I think it is natural to feel disappointed.

I’m also extremely worried we lost two centre-backs inside one game. I can’t help but feel unsafe whenever Koscielny misses a game and, while Gabriel is either too hot or too cold, he was very good against the Toffees, strong and capable. We obviously need Mustafi badly, but even then I can’t help but wonder whether Wenger will go with a back three. He will have to either rely on Mertesacker or move back Monreal and sacrifice the Spaniard’s attacking impetus in the process. Fingers crossed Gabby’s injury is not as bad as it looked?

Think that’s all from me for now. Back to look ahead to the cup final.

Have a good week.

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One Response to From Which 3 Centre Backs from 5 to Praying we have 3 Fit for Wembley – #AFC3EFC1

  1. Dammy May 22, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    Good piece- I like the bits about the points total at the end. While interesting internally, utterly irrelevant to the outside world. As an example, Spur’s 86 points would have won the title last season but not enough this season. What are our CB options for the FA Cup final? Are we in with a chance or will be hopelessly embarrassed? Either way, i hope Wenger calls it time.

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